Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I Miss the West

Highway 108, California, June 2011, over the Sierra Nevadas
Seeing photographs that Mike posted of his ride through Idaho and Oregon sent a strange emotion in me that I had never felt before. The pines, the oaks, the 14,000 foot mountain ranges, and with nary a civilization in sight, suddenly felt like home to me.

Despite my best efforts to convince myself that I no longer have a place to call home, I still feel the West drawing me back to its wide open spaces, it's drier climate, and the smell of fresh air.

It's like that old saying, "You don't know what you have until you lose it."

On the eastern side of the Mississippi River, everything seems to change. People are different. Culture is different.

Even the roadways seem different.

People often referred to me as "the human GPS", because I've been able to memorize routes, turns, and where things are. But in the East, I've failed to do that. I think it's because nothing makes sense out here.

For example, in New Jersey, along Highway 18, you can't make left turns. In order to take a left off the highway, you have to turn right, find the loop that takes you back to Highway 18, and then go across it. You figure the Highway is designed that way to increase traffic flow, yet Highway 18 is still nightmarish traffic jam during the day.

Road signs are poorly marked within the Eastern States. Often, I miss the road I'm supposed to turn down because the street sign is so small, I can't read it until I've passed it by. Road names change far more often in the East than they do in the West. What shows on Google Maps with one name, was already renamed to something else.

And I can't believe how expensive and how numerous toll roads are. Each state has toll booths strategically placed so that you can't avoid them, and it's too much out of the way to go around them. In Baltimore, every bridge and tunnel is tolled, and then they toll the Interstates again when you leave the city.

I thought I had the State of Maryland beat when I avoided the I-95 toll north of the Susquehanna River, by taking the US-40 instead, through Havre De Grace. But nope, they have that tolled up too.

What really irked me about the tolls, is that they charged each motorcycle separately. So for example, the the $8.00 a vehicle toll on the I-95 at the Susquehanna River, was actually $16.00 for the two of us. I mean, both bikes are still four wheels and two people, why can't that be just one toll?

The last time Maryland will ever collect a toll from me.
We paid $64.00 in tolls for four days in Maryland.

When Sash and I rode from Baltimore to New Brunswick, NJ, I tried to avoid the tolls. I looked at the map and plotted a route that avoided toll booths and turnpikes. Unfortunately, it meant going through a lot of stop lights, and rush-hour traffic through Philadelphia. It was a very long ride, and all it did was make Sash's body ache even more, which made me feel ashamed for trying to stick it to the Man.

And I suppose folks in the East are used to it, and that they consider it something to be thankful for.

Yeah, I know that there are toll roads in the west, but they're still mostly privatized highways, not government owned. I don't seem to mind paying a toll as long as my taxes are not already paying for it. And I like the way California handled the Coronado Bay Bridge and the Vincent Thomas Bridge, removing the tolls after they earned enough money to offset their construction.

I guess the East has found a way to capitalize on its traffic congestion.

It's like how lawmakers keep wanting increase surcharges on cigarettes. Once you're hooked on that nicotine, politicians can milk you dry, and it's not easy for you to stop smoking.

Now I understand why so many Easterners have moved West.


  1. I'm a former Jersey girl now living in South Carolina. I lived in New Brunswick and had to drive on 18 daily. It was enough to cause me and my partner to flee to Boulder for a couple of years. Eventually I returned to finish at Rutgers, but I don't want to live in NJ again. That was before I started riding, but what an awful place to be on a motorcycle! My dream is to go west again one fine day. Travel safe!

  2. Y'all just went to the wrong side of this side of the Mississippi. When you go to places where the whole damn state is a city what can you expect. When Pat and I went to CA and back, we debated going up the east coast and across and said nope, cities are cities, we wanted scenery.

  3. Culture shock is a real thing, and a hard one to explain until you've been through it.

    A bit of advice from a fellow weary traveller:

    There are four stages to a big change in location: Honeymoon, Homesick, Humor, Home.

    For the first few weeks/months, everything is THE BEST EVER!!!

    Then, for a while, everything is THE WORST THING EVER!!! and you just want to go home.

    Then, everything is utterly ridiculous, and all you can do is laugh.

    Then, everything is just your new normal.

    Also - it is incredible how different the cultures and landscapes are in the same country, isn't it?

  4. The West... It's more than just scenery. Is the sky just "Scenery" to an Eagle? Could and Eagle find a new "Home" in a cave?

    The West is an addiction of the soul. The space. The sheer SPACE to breathe. Room to be with yourself, where for at least a short while NO ONE is tearing off a piece. NO ONE is working the angles on you. NO ONE is claiming ownership... Just you... and Clear and Open Space to breathe.

    Only the sound of the wind in the trees or the surf against the beach... the possibility of true Freedom survives where man has not yet subjugated everything under taxes, tolls and "traditions".

  5. To play devil's advocate here: First off, the tolls are effectively libertarianism at work: the people who use the roads are paying for the roads. And in New Jersey, at least, those roads are maintained by a corporation, not the government. Yes, the NJTA has oversight, but it's still effectively how roads would work in a libertarian utopia. That, or we'd all have to buy KTMs to navigate rutted, muddy paths.

    That said, it is lame that motorcycles aren't given a discounted rate.

    In terms of space, it exists, but it is not as obvious because of the trees. You can be just as isolated east of the Mississippi but not feel that way because trees prevent you from seeing for 40 miles. Massachusetts (away from Boston -- although I LOVE Boston, too) has some great spaces, as does Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. New York state is amazing in sections (a general rule is to stay north and west of I-84). The East Coast has some incredible spots; remember that our forefathers loved it so much they were willing to fight and die for it.

    I strongly urge you to visit one of the coastal state parks in Massachusetts, like Sandy Point. Stop at a place that serves homemade ice cream. There are several, advertised by tiny signs that are easy to miss. It'll change your opinion of the region.

  6. I've never thought about the number of toll roads in some of the Eastern states. I could see where it would be tedious especially without other alternatives.

    They were thinking of putting a new bridge over the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon on I-5 with a toll and a huge ruckus was raised as people threatened to take the I-205 instead which would just clog it. Not sure if that is still in play or not.

    I love the west. As much as we think about travel and seeing the country Oregon just feels like home.

  7. I love all of the input here! I was heartbroken when Highway looked at me yesterday and said "I miss the West". I was lying on a gurney in the emergency room in New Brunswick feeling terribly homesick myself. To see the sadness in his face made me want to get out of there and get him home, back to where he was happy.
    Keep in mind we are really lovers of the city. The hustle and bustle, activity, energy and fast pace. But this area has a foreign energy, as well as hard to navigate, terribly maintained roads.
    It is not to say it is a bad place; just not our place. Poor fit. Nothing more. I want to sit on the beach and see the sunset into the ocean again. But I'm terribly grateful to have come here, just to experience it. One must try things on to know if they fit.

  8. Nice write-up, Steve. I lived in near Cocoa Beach but that had a different feel than anywhere else I ever visited on the East coast, especially the North East. I agree that the mountains and wide open spaces of the West are more appealing. There's a sense of rugged individualism in the West that you just don't find elsewhere. Different strokes for different folks I guess. Not everyone can blesssed to live in Texas ;-) Safe travels as you and Tina make you're way westward. ~Curt

  9. Nice write-up, Steve. I lived in near Cocoa Beach but that had a different feel than anywhere else I ever visited on the East coast, especially the North East. I agree that the mountains and wide open spaces of the West are more appealing. There's a sense of rugged individualism in the West that you just don't find elsewhere. Different strokes for different folks I guess. Not everyone can blesssed to live in Texas ;-) Safe travels as you and Tina make you're way westward. ~Curt

  10. Come to North Carolina and we'll make you feel welcome, well, except for the high fuel tax.

  11. Enjoyed the write-up, especially the parts about New Jersey. You hit the nail squarely on the head with the comments on Route 18 and all the toll roads. I recently left New Jersey, permanently, for Florida. Thoroughly enjoying it.

    There's really not much reason to use the toll roads down here unless you're heading for MCO, um, which I happened to do just this morning. There are places where the tolls are placed such that you can just about get to speed when it's time to stop for the next. Madness. On the way back I decided to try to avoid the tolls and use the local roads. I dealt with extra traffic, some rather poor road conditions in places, and passed through a few questionable areas of a few towns. Took quite a bit longer, too. I decided that in the future, on those occasions that I must visit the airport, I'd just suck up the tolls and get it over with.

  12. I've been following you and Sash since you departed on this most excellent adventure. But, for some reason I've kept quiet, until now. ;)

    Please don't write off all the states east of the Mississippi until you've been to Alabama. My state is full of beautiful twisty, winding, challenging, relaxing, amazing roads... all over!! We have rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, hills and valleys... truly a playground for bikers. Just ask the AZ Harely Dude! We met him as he rode through here a couple years ago. I would love, love, love to give you and Sash a wonderful guided ride, if you ever got this far south that is.

    Montgomery, AL... check it out and let me know if you get down this way. It would be most awesome!

    Ride safe and God bless you both!
    Lady R


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)